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scorch66
It looks good on you. That book.
ftf repost; 1/2 
4th-Oct-2013 10:18 pm
feel
Title: Trust your eyes to me
Pairings/Characters: Ueda/Kame
Rating: PG13
WordCount: 16.8K
Warnings: quotes, canon, teenage angst, feelings, and pesky meta
Notes: This fic is heavily based on the following translated interviews: 1 | 2 | 3 and was originally written for fic_the_faith 2013. It was first posted here. Happy Birthday, Uepi ♥

Summary: They're riddled with insecurities but around each other, they're secure.

ETA: leen1707 (♥) was kind enough to provide a Russian translation of this fic: Part 1 || Part 2





"I was incredibly anxious when eyes were turned towards me; I think I was scared of people."
Kazuya


"I've maybe always liked pretending to be someone that I'm not. By acting as a different self, I maybe actually was searching for myself."
Tatsuya



///



You're Doraemon. You're Doraemon.

He presses his face into his pillow, burying himself in the softness, and lets the fabric absorb the wetness of his eyes. He can hear their voices in the hallway, hushed yet booming in his ears and even pulling his blanket over his head doesn't shield him.

"He skipped his lessons again and his teachers say his grades are dropping."

There's an undertone of accusation his mom's voice that his dad picks up and throws back.

"I told you it's no use. What's the point in sending him to swimming and drawing when he can't even keep up with his regular lessons? I told you he wasn't fit for it, not like his sister. At this point, what future does he even have? We've provided him everything."

"He's still young..." There's murmuring that thankfully can't be heard until at last their disappointment is solidified in his mother's fading words, "I don't know what to do with him..."

Footsteps and the click of their bedroom door.

When the air becomes too stale, too suffocating, he lifts his head from under the blanket and breathes wetly. His pyjamas are soft and warm, worn to a faded blue with cartoons of a robotic cartoon cat patched all over. He's had this one for years. It's his favourite.

He clamps his eyes shut, squeezing out the last of his tears, and wishes that his faded blue pyjamas will melt into his skin, transforming him into anyone else but Ueda Tatsuya.

You're Doraemon. You're Doraemon.


///



He's in ninth grade, just barely scraping by middle school, when he's driven to a large boring building and discovers that his mother had arranged a Johnny's Junior audition for him.

"I thought if you hadn't passed, I wouldn't have said anything," she says and Ueda wants to yell, wants to jerk the steering wheel and show her what it's like to have everything spin out of her control, even though they're parked and it wouldn't do much. His anger burns out just as fast as it is ignited when his mom says softly, "You wrote that you wanted to become an entertainer in your graduation album."

All that remains are ashes, warming the center of his chest.

His mom smiles and he nods, turning to look back up at the building. It doesn't look glamorous, not a hint of sparkle decking its grey cement walls. They drove hours to arrive at its doors and Ueda doesn't want to move again. For years, his dad's job has uprooted him time and again and he's used to it but there's a difference between wanting and quiet resignation. He hates being the new kid. He's always the new kid.

He opens the car door and steps out, asking his mom to wish him luck before he walks through the maze of corridors leading to the audition.

He's certain he won't pass.

He doesn't understand the flicker of joy when, by some chance, he does.

He's not used to being chosen.


///



It's a bother. Practicing the same old dance routine in a stuffy room with too many boys and too little chance to shine erodes the initial awe into agitation. There are a couple dozen of them in total, the majority of them carrying hope in their perfectly timed twirls and Ueda wants to knock sense in to them. Only the tiniest fraction of them will even make it to the back pages of a magazine.

His own chances are less than slim. He's seen the others, the golden boys who have made it, and Ueda averts his eyes when he passes by Yamashita in the corridor. There's a chiasm between them that he can't hope to cross even with the aid of wings.

He skips enough practice to warrant a call from the agency and soon he's stuffed into the car and driven once more to the drab building that houses hundreds of broken dreams. But not his, never his, because he doesn't dare.

"This is what you want," his dad says as he gets out of the car. There's no question of isn't it? and Ueda doesn't reply, stays mute with the fear that his parents are planting another wilting dream in his place. "Show your respect to Johnny-san."

That, Ueda can do. He's made enough courtesy calls due to his dad's transfers that smiling apologetically at Johnny's creased face should be a breeze. He doesn't recognize himself in those moments, his lips stretching on their own accord to please the adults, easy and without thought—and it's freedom. He revels in those moments when he can play someone else.

He waits for his turn outside Johnny's office and grins at the squeaky voice filtering through the misleadingly heavy looking doors. Someone else has been skipping practices too, it seems. Ueda listens more carefully. Baseball. The squeaky voiced junior wants to play baseball. At least he has something going for him, Ueda thinks, unable to ward away the envy that sprouts from the surety in his voice. He sounds earnest, determined, and with every squeaky word, Ueda feels more adrift.

Maybe he shouldn't have quit his piano lessons after all. Maybe then he could tell Johnny-san that he skipped practice in order to fulfill his dream of becoming a world famous pianist, and not because he didn't have a dream at all—that he didn't buy into the future that Johnny dangled before him with the illusion of being within his reach.

The door opens and Ueda straightens, his eyes locking with a tinier pair resting under an umbrella of bushy eyebrows. The envy shoots up into a stalk as the junior walks by with a faint, acknowledging nod. He's tiny, all knobbly joints and a face that couldn't be picked out from a crowd. Not a trace of anything special, anything that sets him apart, a presence forgotten with the blink of an eye.

He's like Ueda.

And so why, how does he dare to hope?


///



In 2001, he's handed a letter—a fitting U—at the trailing end of a group that curdles into existence from the sourest juniors of the lot. There are six of them, Ueda included. Six no names, each of them faceless, angry, and lost. KAT-TUN is the name Johnny gives to them and all Ueda can hear is cartoon. They're a joke.

There's no humour though. Instead there are fights over spilled cream and misplaced water bottles, a bumped shoulder, a mocking snort, an eye roll, a breath—everything and nothing. Ueda hates them all and knowing that the feelings are shared gives him satisfaction. The more fires lit in the forest, the faster it will burn down and give way for new life.

Sometimes, he only has to walk into their cramped room and connect eyes with Tanaka for the air to start crackling.

Other, more frequent times, it's Kamenashi's nasally voice that triggers his hands to curl into fists.

"If it was me, I'd do it like this," Kamenashi says with his pinched face and the countdown begins in Ueda's veins... one, two, three... He can only hear the dripping condescension so many times before he explodes. In front of him, standing in the center of the dance room, Kamenashi executes a perfectly timed routine and ends it with a snap of his small fingers, angling his head towards the mirror with pompous self-regard.

He makes it look so easy, even when everything about him screams mediocre. The lights shine down on them all but they bounce off him differently, like a diamond-cut shard of glass, eye-catching but far from a gem. It's all about the presentation and Kamenashi is good at serving himself on a platter, but even that Ueda will never admit out loud.

"Who says I want to be a scrawny mouse like you?" Ueda snaps. Kamenashi the pest, always running under their feet. "I'll do it my way."

He pointedly turns to the mirror and ends the routine with a twirl of his own. His limbs feel stiff and awkward, like a scarecrow being pulled along by puppet strings, but it's better than Kamenashi's. It's better because he's been a junior longer, knows what works and what doesn't and who does Kamenashi even think he is? He's the lowest rung on the ladder.

In the end, they both get told off by Koichi.


///



"Hey, junior, what's up with your lips?"

Ueda stills, biting down on his lower lip and trying to tuck it back into his mouth. If there's anyone he hates more than Kamenashi, it's Nishikido.

"Hey, are you ignoring me? You know who I am, right?"

"Everyone knows who you are, midget," Akanishi answers, redirecting the eventual outcome of Ueda's fist landing in Nishikido's face. "Stop coming down here to steal my food. It's already like a closet in here."

Ueda tunes them out and focuses on chewing his lunch. He keeps his onigiri lifted, hiding his mouth until they leave. Nishikido, Akanishi, Yamapi. And sometimes Kamenashi, although Ueda figures he can't be more than a tag-along, a simpering shadow they'll toss aside when he gets itchy. Rumours have it that they'll form a new golden group. Good for them.

Ueda picks at his lips, peeling the skin he broke when he bit at the soft flesh. If he never has to see Nishikido's face again, even better.

He senses someone watching and looks up to see Kamenashi, standing in the doorway and peering down the hallway where Akanishi's laughter resounds and back to Ueda's face.

"He's joking. It's just how Nishikido is so don't—"

Ueda's standing up before he can be subjected to Kamenashi's pity session.

"Fuck off. You're exactly like the annoying mosquito everyone says you are," Ueda hisses and he tosses his lunch wrapper into the rubbish. "They talk about you behind your back, you know? But you shouldn't take it personally."

Kamenashi's lips thin instantly, a tight zippered line. He waits for the bitter retort or maybe this time Kamenashi will finally make things interesting and raise his hand. Instead he stands there prickly and silent, his face firm with anger.

There's a crack when Kamenashi suddenly clenches his eyes shut, tight and quick, and Ueda doesn't have time to figure it out because the next moment, Kamenashi disappears through the door.


///



He's sitting in their tiny dressing room, Nakamaru on one side and Kamenashi on the other. He plays with the dangly pieces of his dance costume in his lap, seeing their elbows fly in and out of his periphery. There's the sound of a comb being set down, Kamenashi asking for someone to pass the hairspray.

Ueda is closest but he lets Nakamaru lean over and hand it over.

There's fidgeting and teasing about Nakamaru's wig—the joke that will never end and Nakamaru doesn't even try to stop it, knowing that it's one of the few common threads that unites them—and not once does Ueda glance up. He's tempted to but he can't lose what confidence he has before he hits the stage.

"The straightener, can you hand it over? Hey. The straightener. Are you really going to—never mind, I'll get it myself."

Ueda startles when he feels Kamenashi teeter and press against his side as his stubby fingers reach for the straightener. Belatedly, he realises that Nakamaru is no longer in the room which makes Kamenashi's words the first of which have been directed at him for weeks. Ueda mutters an inaudible apology and passes the hair straightener.

A terse thank you trudges past Kamenashi's lips and he returns to playing with his hair.

That's the first time he's met Kamenashi's eyes in days as well. They're as squinty as usual, but not as always. They're all changing and Kamenashi's growth is most distinct. His eyes are opening up, his face rearranging so that the pieces that were once awkward are now slowly settling into place.

Whenever he sees Kamenashi, Ueda feels like he's stuck in time.

They sit there in contrasting silence with Ueda not daring to glance at his reflection and Kamenashi fawning over his.

"I hate my face."

He doesn't know why he says it, but the confession trips forward, stumbling into the quiet and bracing for Kamenashi's response. Maybe he'll scoff and pretend he didn't hear it and that'll be that. Maybe that's what Ueda's hoping for.

Ueda chews on his lip, waiting.

Kamenashi sets down the straightener and sends him a brief sideways glance, his eyes tugging back towards the mirror like he can't get enough of himself. It's why his next reply is jarring.

"Me too."

Something acidic curls quick in his stomach before Ueda notices the critical furrows around Kamenashi's eyebrows and the direction of his gaze, and realises that Kamenashi is agreeing about himself. It takes a moment for Ueda to balance that in his mind, to edit his knowledge about Kamenashi and substitute assessing in place of fawning.

It feels wrong.

"That doesn't make sense," he blurts out. "That's just. People don't call you weird."

His lip hurts from how hard he bites down and there's a pang of panic at the thought that they'll swell even larger now.

Kamenashi's laugh is scratchy and lower than it is when he's off playing with Akanishi.

"Everyone thinks I'm ugly and annoying."

It's laid out as a fact and the acidic sensation is back when Ueda recalls the last words they had exchanged months ago. He can't imagine what it must have taken for Kamenashi to say it out loud, bare and without any defense. Skinny little Kamenashi who can't take a joke and flinches at the slightest offense. Maybe he hadn't though it through and the confession dropped from a hole in his pocket just as Ueda's own.

"That was a long time ago," Ueda says and doesn't point out the obvious changes, that Kamenashi is one of the rare ones who puberty has taken kind to. It hangs between them until Kamenashi swats it away.

Ueda watches him yank roughly at his bangs, dragging the strands over his face so that he's staring at his reflection from under a curtain of dyed brown. His eyes are searching, scouring over his face in frustration and suddenly Ueda can see himself in the disapproval etched across his face. The same unacceptable verdict.

"I'm still me underneath," Kamenashi says grimly. He turns to Ueda abruptly then, eyes bright with an idea. "Let's make a deal. You be my mirror and I'll be yours. But you have to be honest, okay?"

Ueda thinks it over.

He takes a breath and finally peers at his reflection before wincing and hurriedly looking away. He'd rather hear it from Kamenashi than the niggling voice at the back of his head. Someone he can trust to understand.

He breathes out. "Okay."


///



Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest one of all?

Not you, my darling.

If not fairest, then fair enough?

Not you, my darling.



///



He runs an absent hand across Gackt's glossy face in the magazine spread, tracking Kamenashi's movements as he rips himself away from Akanishi's side and walks over. They're to be on stage in fifteen minutes and Kamenashi is all dressed up, ready for inspection. He stops in front of Ueda, fondling his hair hesitantly and waiting in silent inquiry.

Ueda looks him over.

"Don't tuck your hair like that," he says from where he sits cross-legged on the floor. The room is too small to fit tables and chairs. "Your ears stick out that way."

Kamenashi quickly tucks out the strands and plasters them over his ears. "Better?"

Ueda nods and returns his gaze down to the magazine, awaiting his turn. Gackt looks up at him with a dazzling smile that Ueda can never hope to achieve, his eyes twinkling through the page under equally dazzling blond hair. Everything about him is astounding and unreachable no matter how hard Ueda grips the magazine.

"You look good." Ueda's head snaps upwards and Kame shrugs with a smile. "Just angle your head to the side if you're worried about your mouth. Widening your eyes helps too."

Ueda folds the advice into the breast pocket of his memory. It's no use, though, he knows. Taguchi is practicing his juggling with paper cups in a corner while Tanaka weaves an incomprehensible string of words to the beat of Nakamaru's busy lips. Akanishi is clacking away at his phone and shooting suspicious looks over Kamenashi's shoulders, waiting for Kamenashi's attention to return. He's the only one who can afford not to care.

In a few minutes from now, Ueda will step onto the stage as nothing but a shadow. His existence will smudge away next to the rap, the beatbox, the swirling hips, the voice, the enchanting words, the winks to the camera—his name forgotten under the screams of the audience as they shout for the other members.

In his nightmares, a fan asks him what the U in KAT-TUN stands for.

In his worst nightmare, even he doesn't know the answer.

"That's Gackt, right?" Kamenashi asks, still hovering in his space. "He looks like a foreigner there."

Ueda hadn't recognized him at first, either, despite the shelves of his room being lined by all his CDs.

Maybe a transformation is what he needs.

He fingers the streak of bright blond falling across Gackt's face. "I want to dye my hair."

Kamenashi's groomed eyebrows lift. This isn't going from black to brown or a few highlights. This is something no one will be able to ignore.

"Why?"

Ueda scans the room, scans all the talent being steadily sharpened in the cramped space, and looks ups with an unease that he knows Kamenashi shares.

"Like this," he gestures at himself, "I'm not enough."

Slowly, Kamenashi nods. He stands there tugging at the sleeve of his costume for a moment until his lips twitch. "I think it'll look cool."

A pulse of something—relief, warmth, hope—loosens the knot in his chest and Ueda wipes a clammy hand on the velvet of his pants.

"We can go after the show..."

Kamenashi's smile freezes, snagging on the unmistakable we. Ueda can tell what he's thinking, the thoughts zipping behind his polite smile: but I'm not Nakamaru, we aren't even friends, we don't talk, we fight, you hate me, I don't like you, this isn't part of our deal, don't get me involved.

"That sounds good."

Kamenashi's smile is stiff with a strange shyness and relief tugs loose Ueda's clutch on the magazine, the pages now crinkled around the edges. It's true that they're not friends but Ueda can't do this alone, and it's also true that Kamenashi is the only one who can understand.


///


I probably had a strong desire to transform into something else.



He doesn't feel any different when he steps out of the salon and slides into the bustle of the street with Kamenashi following after. He's glad to be out in the fresh air, away from the corrosive smell of bleach frying his hair, even if the constant heads snapping his way make his skin itch uncomfortably. The attention is a first and the only indication of his change.

More than once, he catches Kamenashi's eyes resting on his profile and Kamenashi finally smiles sheepishly, caught in the act for the fourth time. He lifts a hand to Ueda's hair and Ueda moves back reflexively, before he can touch. Kamenashi doesn't seem to mind, although his hand reaches out once more before falling half-way.

"It looks so different, but in a good way," Kamenashi says with a star-struck hesitance. "No one will be able to tell it's you."

"Good." He'll gladly wave farewell to the old Ueda Tatsuya. The new one is here to make an impression.

Ueda clamps his lips and widens his strides, revelling in his transformation. Now he only needs accessories to match.

Kamenashi suggests a place and Ueda turns, following the instructions of his twisting wrist. They walk into a narrow street with open markets along the sides, artificial silvers and golds and gems twinkling under the sunlight. He stops outside a dusty shop window where a rack of thick, silver jewellery is on display. The spiky necklace on the third row looks exactly like Gackt's.

The shop is small and dim with the only light coming from the sun pouring through the large front window. It smells musty, like a forgotten treasure chest locked away in an attic. A wiry man in a tank top with tattoos snaking up his arms greets them with a nod and Ueda can feel Kamenashi close to his side, bumping elbows as they both look on in wary wonder.

"That one looks cool," Kamenashi says, pointing to a bracelet sitting on a faded velvet cushion. Predictably, it has chunky skull beads.

Ueda snorts under his breath and moves to look at a row of earrings. There's a long silver one that resembles a tooth and would match nicely with the necklace. Ueda fingers his smooth ear lobe in thought and startles when the shop keeper speaks.

"I can pierce it for you if you want," he drawls.

Ueda bites his lip and looks to the side where Kamenashi is watching him with anxious excitement. He doesn't have his ears pierced either. Somehow, feeling another's uncertainty dissolves his own and he agrees. He even volunteers to go under the needle first, because he's older and Kamenashi is sticking to his side like a puppy and so what if he feels nauseous when a cube of ice is lifted to his ear? Gackt has more piercings than he can count.

The needle slides through easily with a pinch of pain that fades just as quickly and all Ueda really feels in that moment is the tight, sweaty squeeze of Kamenashi's hand around his. A comfort he didn't ask for.

When he opens his eyes, Kamenashi is watching him with a cautious sort of awe and Ueda's voice rasps when he laughs, "Piece of cake."

They leave the shop with twin, fake diamond studs nestled in their ears and Ueda swinging a bag containing a spiky necklace, a fang-shaped earring, and a skull-beaded bracelet.


///



A trail of whispers ignites as he passes by juniors in the corridor the next week. Everyone freezes when he steps into the dressing room and Ueda catches Kamenashi grinning at him over Koki's shoulder, the only one unfazed with his ear stud catching the light and blinking hello.

"Whoa," Tanaka says at last, "and I thought the hair experiments were my territory."

Suddenly he's crowded, curious hands tugging at his hair and questions spilling forth too fast to scoop up. Ueda swats at them, his fang-shaped earring whipping dangerously and Akanishi grabs it, looking down at him with a peculiar sort of concern that verges on accusation.

"Kame got his ear pierced last week, too..."

Ueda sees Kamenashi look away, feigning ignorance, and he bites down on his lip, hard. So Kamenashi doesn't want it known that they've been hanging out, if a rare afternoon—now definitely a one-off—can be called even that. Ueda can give him that much.

"None of your business, Akanishi."


///



He's on stage with KAT-TUN during the few precious minutes allotted for a perfunctory MC segment before they have to resume their positions as backdancers and Ueda has not said a single word. Nakamaru and Tanaka are wrapping it up with one of their dry TaNaka skits that only Kamenashi finds amusing and there's a gap when the audience applauds that he has to stuff with something. Anything.

There's a fan nearby with stickers on her face and a glittery headband and Ueda says the first thing that comes to his mind.

"I can see fairies."

There's a hush followed by snickers and when Ueda's face remains stubbornly smooth, Akanishi asks incredulously, "Really?"

When they walk off stage, he thinks he's managed to convince about a third of the audience and as for the non-believers, at least they'll now know his name. Ueda Tatsuya, the friend of the fairies. It isn't something he would have picked, but it's certainly better than Ueda Tatsuya, who?

"That was definitely a lie!" Kamenashi squeaks backstage and for some reason, Ueda is more enraged than he should be when he whirls around and shoves Kamenashi back a few steps.

"I saw them!" Ueda spits. "What, are you scared I'm going to steal your fans? You think you're better than me, don't you?"

And suddenly the conversation has escaped his leash and is bounding so far and fast that Ueda doesn't know where it's headed. Nakamaru intervenes just in time, a calming hand placed on his chest as Akanishi forcibly tugs Kamenashi away. Taguchi is giving him an odd look from a couple feet away and Ueda wants to know what he sees, wants to slip into his Doraemon pyjamas and hide because truthfully, he'd rather not.


///



Whatever magma is flowing under his shifting emotions finally erupts to the surface on a fateful day that, in the future, they'll joke about with nostalgia.

At the moment when it happens, however, when Nakamaru's folly begins the cracks and they widen with every accusing look sent his way—because he was the closest and he should have covered it so why didn't he?—and the anger churns with each murmured apology, because he couldn't, and then the door to their dressing room slams open and Ueda is suddenly livid with an urge to break Kamenashi's face.

Kamenashi stalks towards him, small and cruel.

"If I was in your place, I would have covered for him," he hisses. "We won't get anywhere if you don't try!"

Ueda stares at the unforgiving angle of his eyebrows, sharp and clouded by the memory of the bushier ones they replaced, the nameless junior he envied way back when. It doesn't matter how hard he tries. He's a screw up. He screws things up. He'll make a mess of Kamenashi.

There's cotton in his ears but he can hear a snap somewhere inside him and then the words are flying out with his fists, "Maybe you can do it, but I can't!"

Kamenashi isn't one to hold back and there's pain and shouts and the taste of copper flooding his mouth as he tries to reach any part of Kamenashi, any part will do, any part that he can reach and drag back to the pit he's stuck in, a soaring star ripped from the sky. There's wetness that he thinks is blood until he hears the choking sobs and pauses in a moment of horror because he can't fucking cry in front of—

It's Nakamaru.

"I'm sorry. It's my fault. Please," Nakamaru pleads as he tries to squirm between them. His eyes are red, his body shaking. "I'm sorry. Don't fight because of me. I'm sorry."

Kamenashi is the first to stand down, releasing his grip on Ueda's collar and stepping back. There's a trail of blood dripping from his split lip and Ueda can't bring himself to feel either satisfaction or regret. He feels nothing but the dull throbbing of his body.

"You don't think about your friends one bit," Kamenashi says hoarsely. His hair is a bird's nest, his buttons torn apart and his sleeve hanging off his shoulder, exposing a long scratch on his upper arm. According to their deal, Ueda should tell him that he looks like shit.

But they're not friends. They're just messed up.

"I don't want to hear this from some guy I don't know."

And for some reason, rather than during the medley of fists and kicks, Kamenashi chooses that fragile, quiet moment to look hurt.


///



When it was Kamenashi's turn to get his ear pierced, his eyes darted skittishly and Ueda laughed, offering him his hand.

Kamenashi looked at it, perplexed, until Ueda said, "It helps."

"Thanks."

Ueda returned his smile reassuringly. "It's not that bad."

Kamenashi laughed. "That's because you're fearless."

Ueda was too caught in his smile to tell him the truth.



///



There are eggshells scattered around them and an empty space in between because neither of them will bridge the gap on his own, regardless. Akanishi sticks to Kamenashi's sphere and Nakamaru to his; Tanaka and Taguchi wander about, cautious around both. They're not together enough for it to be a hindrance; Kamenashi practices on one side of the room and Ueda on the opposite and everyone pretends the thorns aren't there.

It works.

Until Nishikido walks in one day, heedless of the eggshells cracking underfoot. Ueda's insides twist even before he opens his mouth.

"Hey, fairy boy, aren't your lips looking extra pale today?"

Ueda gathers himself in his chair, tight and coiled, trying to look as uninteresting as possible with his bright blond hair and flashy jewellery.

"Shut it, Nishikido," he mutters through lips that suddenly feel huge and abnormal hanging around his mouth. More lip balm. He should have hidden them under more lip balm.

"What's that?" Nishikido's drawl has an edge to it now. "I'm giving you valuable advice here—"

"He looks fine."

Kamenashi is sitting on the opposite side of the room, flipping a girly fashion magazine with a pink cover. His face is blank when he looks up at Nishikido. "You won't find Jin here. He went to ambush Pi on the third floor."

There's a tone of finality in his voice, like he's dictating what will happen, that staunches any further cutthroat remarks from Nishikido and sends him on his way. When he's gone, Kamenashi returns to his magazine without as much as a glance at Ueda.

Ueda takes several moments to swallow and dislodge the wet ball in his throat. There's still something stuck.

"You didn't tell Akanishi about... when I did my hair..."

Kamenashi stills imperceptibly before flipping another page. It's too fast for him to be actually absorbing anything.

"I thought you would want to keep it a secret. Everyone knows that you—" hate me, a controlled breath and a shrug too stiff to be casual, "—that we don't get along."

They don't.

Ueda runs a hand across his eyes and the skull bracelet encircling his wrist jingles.

But they did.


///



The blond hair grants him his wish but it's not just him who's being taken notice of; it's all of them. Their fan base grows rapidly, the specks of uchiwa in the audience now becoming a sea, and Ueda can hardly believe it when they're told that KAT-TUN will be the first pre-debut group to hold a concert.

Months pass in a blink as they practice harder than ever. Tanaka's wall of hatred begins to crumble with the prospect of actually getting somewhere with the five misfits who he had thought would do nothing but bog him down, and soon he's demanding everyone to call him Koki. Akanishi is Akanishi to everyone but Kamenashi and Taguchi is always Taguchi unless someone slips and calls him Junno; Taguchi's smile is blindingly obnoxious whenever that happens, hence the rarity. Nakamaru has too many nicknames, most of them teasing, to remember.

Kamenashi is cropped and packaged with a cute bow into Kame and Ueda can't bring himself to say it. He's not allowed to.

As for himself, he remains Ueda until a sweaty afternoon of dance practice when they're all sprawled on the floor, taking a break while their instructor goes to the washroom, and Nakamaru says into the humid air, "We're actually doing this. We're a group."

"We're KAT-TUN." And it surprises everyone that Koki is the one to say it.

"We'll make it," Kamenashi breathes and Ueda looks over to see him burning a hole in the ceiling, a contrast to the dreamy smile tugging at his lips. "We'll be huge. Everyone will know us. We're this close."

A brief hush follows his words, the determination in them painting a dream they can't resist diving into.

"All groups have leaders," Taguchi says at last and that sets off Akanishi and Koki as they scramble to volunteer themselves. Everyone expects Kamenashi's pitchy voice to join into the fray because this is simply a formal title for his bossiness, but he just watches on with a bemused smile and Taguchi finally suggests, "Let's rock-paper-scissors for it?"

Five scissors and a rock later, Ueda becomes Leader.


///



The evening of their first show finally arrives and twenty minutes before the curtains lift, Ueda is puking out his guts in a cramped washroom stall. He tastes acid and wipes at his mouth, clambering to the sink with shaky legs. He can't stop sweating and his blond hair is smeared across his forehead and he looks pasty and awful, his mouth ballooning, and he can't stand under the lights like this. He can't.

Nakamaru and Kamenashi walk in just as he's finished rinsing his mouth.

"You okay?" Nakamaru asks and Ueda nods tersely. He was only planning on ditching them, an escape route through the back door of the building mapped in his mind. No biggie.

Nakamaru enters a stall to do his business and Ueda waits for Kamenashi to enter one too, but he just stands there, waiting, and why the fuck did he come to lounge in a washroom? Maybe he came to puke in the sink and Ueda is blocking his way, but that can't be because Kamenashi doesn't eat. There would be nothing to purge, nothing but the light that shines outward through his feverish eyes until they actually look at Ueda and dim with concern. Shit.

"They're waiting for you, you know," Kamenashi says from where he's leaning against the tiled wall. "I peeked from backstage and I saw them holding your posters."

That's the most words Kamenashi has spoken to him ever since they—and it's not what Ueda wants to hear right now. He doesn't want to know how many people he'll be disappointing.

"I'm not like you," he whispers, words scraping his throat. "I'm not."

Kamenashi isn't the best at anything. He's a walking skeleton with the rungs of his ribs visible from a mile away, small enough to be knocked over with a breath—and there's the deception. Kamenashi doesn't snap under pressure; he thrives.

Ueda withers.

"Don't be. Be yourself."

And Ueda laughs thickly because Kamenashi of all people should know that doesn't work. Not with people like them. He smoothes his costume jacket—pure white that he'll be shedding ten minutes into the show—and turns to Kamenashi, gives him a full look at who he really is. You be my mirror and I'll be yours.

"What do you see?"

He waits, pursing his lips so that he's not tempted to bite under Kamenashi's roving eyes. Kamenashi promised to be honest.

"Our leader," a pulse, "just fix your hair."

The toilet flushes behind them and Ueda is immobile as Kamenashi's fingers run through his hair, peeling the strands from his forehead. He feels suddenly full, a bloated sandbag that Kamenashi has accidentally stuffed to the brim. Kamenashi steps away with a small smile, giving Nakamaru room to wash his hands.

"Alright, it's time. We can do this, guys," Nakamaru says to them. Ueda can't help but grin at his encouraging nod because it's Nakamaru who needs the pep talk more than anyone. His body is visibly shaking and Kamenashi laughs as he opens the door.

"Just make sure your wig doesn't fall off."

It's dark backstage and everything is a blur but Ueda knows whose hand squeezes around his in the split-second before they step into the lights.


///



All the sand spills out eventually and just as suddenly, sticky grains streaking his face in front of thousands of fans as the tune of Best Friend begins to play.

It's not the best choice of song because they aren't and will never be best friends, but as far as apologies go, this is one he'll remember for the rest of his life. Kamenashi, too.

And at last he can say it.

"Kame."


///



Kame is the only one who takes his title seriously. I think we should ask Leader. What do you think, Leader? Leader should go first. He says it like Ueda earned it by walking over a path of burning coals and not by miracle closing his hand into a fist. He can tell the others are growing annoyed by it; he's growing annoyed himself.

Every time Kame calls him leader, it's a reminder of the many ways he's not.

"Leader," Kame says as he enters the room, waving from his seat, and it's just another brick added to the weight on his back. Koki rolls his eyes and Ueda feels so stupid, like the word lifts up his curtains and puts all his shortcomings on display.

No one will actually listen to him and even if they did, he has nothing to say. He doesn't know how to plan the MC, how to organize the songs, or the best formation that will expose each of their potentials. He doesn't want to be shoved to the front and forced to stutter into a mic when he can stand safely at the back, just skimming the shadows.

It's enough for him just to be there.

Kame's smile teeters when he snaps, "Stop it."

KAT-TUN are stray winds and Ueda doesn't have the strength to give them direction. He'd rather breeze by, free of burden, and leave the thinking to people who dare.


///



Ueda stares at his calendar with a frown. October 24th. It's the day of his university entrance exam. It's also the day of a recording.

He closes his eyes and envisions his future, thinks about Kame and how he gave up baseball.

For Ueda, KAT-TUN was never a priority. Just another one of his extracurriculars, like calligraphy or soroban. A last option.

When he looks at the calendar again, he draws a large ‘X’ over exam.

He feels as if he's finally taken flight.


///



Kame is the one who soars and it's only Akanishi who manages keep up, neck-to-neck as the rest of them watch from below. It's ironic, how they sing Kizuna with a sharp division between two and four.

The lyrics couldn't be penned by anyone else but Kame and he never meets their eyes afterwards, like it's a crime to make them sing his words. There's a sting of course, but Ueda doubts whether any of them would carry the situation with as much unnecessary humility as Kame. Because that's the thing with Kame, Ueda has learned. If nothing else, he's susceptible to blame. The downfall of caring.

Akanishi stands tall with a lopsided grin that has cameras flashing. Kame stands by his side, just as solid.

It takes them all a while to see the cracks but Ueda sees them first. He has a trained eye from seeing them in himself.

Kame has always been good at withstanding the pressures of an idol but it takes its toll, shows in how it piles along his back, weighing it down into stooping bows that charm the world because such a sign of deep respect is unique for someone of his profession and age. The rest of the world doesn't know how ancient Kame really is; it's a fact privy to only KAT-TUN and they snicker each time a host points out his astounding maturity.

They're to sing at Utawara when Kame goes missing. There's still another act to go before them but Koki and Nakamaru are sending anxious looks at each other and Akanishi shrugs, unconcerned. "Kame's allowed a potty break. He'll be back. He's too paranoid to be late."

Kame is also too paranoid to leave without letting at least one of them know. It's the first time he's disappeared like this. Ueda lasts only a minute before he excuses himself, feigning cluelessness when Nakamaru mouths a thank you. He's not doing this for anyone; he means to return a favour.

Ueda scavenges all the washrooms and closets on their floor and then thinks. He takes the elevator down to the basement level and enters the first washroom he finds that says 'staff only'. He clues in on what kind of state Kame's in by the fact that he forgot to lock the door. Kame's curled up figure in the corner of the floor tells him the rest.

Kame's head snaps up when his foot strikes the tiles and he looks so distraught and young that it takes a moment before Ueda remembers to close the door, turning the lock with a resounding click. He swallows down whatever emotional response is creeping up his throat. They both can't crumple.

Kame needs strength.

"Get up, the floor is filthy."

He tries not to wince with how loud he sounds and is surprised when Kame actually moves, lifting himself up and mechanically obeying his orders, and suddenly Ueda's ears echo with the ghost of a squeaky voice chirping if Leader says so.

Kame's auburn hair doesn't appear half as vibrant in the dank washroom, like someone switched off his light.

"All of this," Kame croaks horribly. He gestures to nothing as if it represents everything, all the cameras and smiles and attention and fame. All the welcoming love. "It won't last. I have to make it last. I don't know how."

If it lasts, if it continues on this way, four of them will be abandoned in the dark. It's a bleak realisation but Ueda didn't come here to think of himself. He came to take care of their youngest, to loosen the skin that's suffocating him because Ueda knows what it's like when it feels too tight and stretched, like you can't crawl out no matter how hard you try.

"Be yourself," Ueda says, an echo from three years ago. He regrets the words when Kame's face twists like he's about to cry. He looks as if Ueda told him to face the monster lying under his bed—but Kame doesn't believe in monsters. He believes in reality. Cold, hard and harsh. He's cornered and Ueda will give him another skin to crawl under.

"Suck it up, Odagiri."

He watches Kame carefully and it works almost like a spell, Kame taking the refuge handed to him. His expression hardens and his shoulders straighten as he stitches himself together. Kame takes everything seriously and he has a job to do and now he can focus on it with his single-minded determination and let the worries fall away. Kamenashi Kazuya may not be strong enough to brave it, but Odagiri Ryu certainly is—and if not, Ueda will be standing at the back to catch him.


///



What do you like about acting? The moment when you stop being you.



During Kaizokuban, Ueda dons a pirate hat with a brim large enough to hide under when the noise get too loud or the lights too bright. He wears a yukata with colourful flowers and twirls prettily, being the princess all his fans want him to be.

His blond hair has thawed from icy to sunny and when he sees Kame walking along a branch of the stage, his solo costume shimmering off his shoulder, he extends his mic and reels him in. Kame returns the gesture and they sing into each other's hands.

Ueda doesn't know who he is in that moment.


///



But, at that time we were all still kids, I suppose they thought I was a traitor.



There's anger, the bitter taste of betrayal dancing on everyone's tongue, but on hindsight, they should have seen it coming. A golden boy taking the next golden boy under his wing. What's more surprising is that there's no space for Akanishi in Shuji to Akira. It stings him more sharply than the rest of them who are used it. After all, its Akanishi's partner on their rise to fame who ditched him midway to ride the coattails of his more popular best friend.

Or so Akanishi screams. His pride now shredded to ribbons, he returns the feelings to Kame who stands pale with his mouth working the same defence over and over—It's for KAT-TUN—until Akanishi has had enough and kicks over a chair.

Ueda can only watch the break-up of AkaKame and all their dreams unfold with detachment. He can't help thinking about October 24th and how he had made the wrong decision after all.

He shouldn't have dared.


///



It's through a friend's suggestion that he heads to the gym. He's there to lift weights, to stretch his muscles until they burn and the ache allows him to dissolve into dreamless sleep as soon as he arrives home. There's not much else to do with KAT-TUN on the backburner and he'd rather let his body take over instead of the poison of his thoughts.

His eyes fix a little too long at the sparring match going on nearby and the intrigue must show on his face because he's tossed a pair of boxing gloves and an invitation to step into the ring, "Want to give it a try?"

Ueda has nothing to lose.

He has a smaller built, a lithe body toned more for dancing than to impart force, and he expects to be knocked to the floor as soon as he swings. The thwack of solid contact spreads through the air and surprises them all. His fist feels bruised even with the thick padding of the glove and his arm is vibrating, recoiling from the blow. Nothing exists outside the white square of the ring.

He releases a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding, emptying his thoughts as his body moves instinctively. He feels sharpened with every punch he takes, every swing he dodges, and he has no name. He doesn't need one in the ring.

When he steps out, sweating and torn, he's born anew as Ueda Tatsuya, KAT-TUN's shadow boxer. He's found his release.


///



Kame rushes in, stick-thin and muscles tight. His eyes dart around the room in a frenzy.

"Where is it?"

"What?" Taguchi finally responds when no one answers. They're all almost twenty and none of them are above using the silent treatment.

Kame's eyes narrow but he bites his tongue and explains curtly. "My script. I can't find it."

Koki's eyes flash to him dangerously. "And what? You think we're low enough to steal it?"

Kame doesn't answer to that and the ambiguity in the air frosts over. Nakamaru shivers on the couch. Ueda is only thankful that Akanishi had left the room a few minutes earlier. If he hadn't, everything would have burned to the ground by now.

"None of us have use for your fucking script," Koki hisses. "If you hadn't noticed, we're jobless."

Kame holds his silence, the wisest thing he can do, and doesn't look at any of them when he walks to his girly duffel bag and starts rummaging.

Koki is about to say something at his back but a head shake from Nakamaru has him closing his mouth. Nakamaru is the butt of their jokes and the heart of KAT-TUN. He's the calm in the storm when gets up and gestures for the others to come along. Ueda is the only one who stays and Nakamaru sends him a worried look over his shoulder as Koki tugs him out the door.

"It's under the couch," Ueda says when it's just them.

Kame crouches low to reach for it and Ueda watches his shoulder blades poke through his shirt like broken angel wings. There's a disturbing beauty to his frailty when he turns around, folding on the ground with his script in hand and his long brown hair curling around the nape of his tucked neck.

Ueda wonders at his control, how he refrains from asking who hid it.

The truth is, no one did. They had seen it slide under the couch when Akanishi's coat knocked it off the table when he walked by. Maybe Kame already knows that, maybe he's relieved they didn't shred it and stuff the scraps in his bag or doodle obscenities on its pages. Maybe he thinks that's what he deserves.

He knows Kame well enough to know there’s no maybe about it.

Ueda chews on his lip. He can't break the habit.

"It's not like you don't have every line memorised already."

A tremor runs through Kame's body and Ueda's frown deepens when he sees Kame's knuckles whiten with his clutch on the script. He has it crushed it to his chest, curled around it protectively. His eyes are hidden.

"You don't understand. I'm not—" Kame cuts off in a sharp, bracing breath. "I don't like being me."

It's not the script he's clinging to; it's Shuji.

Ueda sees himself from years ago, clinging to Gackt through a magazine.

Ueda walks over until he's standing above Kame's curled neck and can count the starting knobs of his spine. His mind whirs with the absurdity of Kame still thinking he's not enough when he's made it. He's sold a million.

And there's enough sorrow in his crumpled form that Ueda knows he'd take back that million in exchange for a debut with KAT-TUN, or a forgiveness he can't do without. It was a mistake to leave the thinking to Kame because Kame thinks too much. He's ancient, after all.

Ueda sinks to his haunches and tucks a lock of Kame's hair behind his ear so it sticks out goofy and out of place in his gaunt face, exactly the way Ueda had told him not to. His lobe is unadorned because Shuji is a good kid and doesn't wear earrings that can get him expelled.

"You didn't betray anyone," he whispers into the shell of his ear, an open secret Kame needs to hear from a voice that isn't his own. Kame flinches under his breath and Ueda catches his elbow, pulling on it until Kame's shoulder crashes against his chest. Kame is small enough that Ueda’s arms fit all around him, his hands clasping together on the other side.

"Fine, then be Shuji," he says firmly. "Shuji likes to please, right?"

Kame is looking at him like he's never seen him before, Ueda's face reflecting in the dark of his eyes and they're so wide that Kame literally is his mirror. The stare is unnervingly empty and Ueda feels like a fool when he takes a hand and konkons in Kame's face to bring forth any sign of life, a twitch of his lips, a bubble of laughter—

A kiss.

Kame surges forward like a crashing wave, sudden and too much, his arms slinking around Ueda's neck and his lips slamming against his. Ueda is a sandcastle left abandoned on the shore and his walls give in an instant, carried away by the shifting currents of the body in his lap. It's not what he expected, not what he meant when he said Shuji likes to please, but Kame needs it.

Kame needs it and Ueda will be his lifeboat no matter if he drowns.


///



Later, when he's more lucid, breathing air and not Kame, Ueda wonders with a sick feeling if it showed. Did it show how much he's always wanted him?


///



Part 2
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